We want to help churches and artists tell better gospel stories. The goal of this site is to pull back the curtains on how we tell stories, with the prayer that you might find something useful for your storytelling efforts.
In that spirit, this is the first post in a series outlining how The Austin Stone Story Team executes our process for written stories. Over the next couple of weeks we will go through the entire process we use to find, assign, create, edit and publish written stories.
Let’s Start with Some History
When Steven Bush started Story Team with a few photographers, they started by telling visual stories, through photo collections and story frames. The next evolution happened quickly when Steven and Jeremy Rodgers, the Stone’s resident filmmaker at the time, joined up and began producing our first films under the Story Team name. It was not long after this beginning that the team partnered with the 100 People Network to tell the stories of our “goers.” These goers are church partners who commit to work with unreached people groups for two or more years.
We wanted to tell the story of every person, but with the stated goal of 100 goers from our church body, it was not practical to make a documentary film for each, nor could the photo essay or story frame formats carry the weight of all 100 stories. Steven realized we needed a new medium for Story Team.
Introducing Written Stories
Steven recruited Ginger Swann, a longtime friend and former magazine editor, to start telling written stories. They started exploring the format of written stories with photographs. They settled on each story having a 350 word version for the Sunday bulletin and 700 word version for the church’s website. The website version had several photographs included, and then before Sunday services the photographs for that week’s story were shown on the screens.
This format allowed us to publish a story each week to our whole church and highlight the stories on our website. We produced more than 100 stories in this manner, covering not just goers, but also other stories of gospel redemption and transformation in our church and city. As our church grew to multiple campuses and adapted to multiple meeting locations and needs, the centrally produced Sunday bulletin was no longer produced and Story Team needed a new outlet for publishing our written stories.
The Story Team Weekly
Which brings us to today. Every week we publish the Story Team Weekly. Every Sunday morning we publish the Weekly to an email list that consists of people in our church and others around the world. This week’s issue was delivered to subscribers in 40 countries. Shameless plug: If you are not a subscriber you can sign up here.
Most issues of the Weekly contain two written stories, one new story and one from our archives. We will vary this format as it makes sense for holidays like Easter, audio stories or to release a new film, but we generally publish two written stories. We aim to publish a new written story to the Weekly every week. These written stories are generally 700-900 words and accompanied by several photographs. In addition publishing through the Story Team Weekly, we also publish them to the Austin Stone website. Based on the variance in story leads, assignment completion and team availability we will occasionally publish from an unreleased backlog of audio and film stories.
At our current volume the written story process moves quickly and has many moving parts. Over the course of six weeks a writer, photographer, two editors and our staff work together with a subject to produce a single written story. Over the coming weeks we will break this process down in a series of blog posts:
- Story Leads and Assignments
- Interviewing the Story Subject
- Photographing the Story
- Writing the Story
- Editing the Story
- Publishing the Story
If you have any questions about our written stories or our process, please let us know in the comments below and we will do our best to answer them as we walk through this series.